MWF changed the game. 

For the first time in Philippine wrestling history, a second promotion existed alongside PWR to create a Phillipine independent wrestling scene instead of one promotion having a hold on all the talent in the country. The pool of talent grew overnight with new acts trying to build their reputations filling up the MWF roster. In fact, it’s quite a feat that none of the year zero MWF events featured any talent from PWR.

They’re a company that more or less had to start from zero.

So in many ways, revisiting this early MWF footage is similar to revisiting the early PWR footage. For one, that trademark greenness and sloppiness runs rampant on this set of footage. But perhaps the most noticeable return to that nostalgic sense of starting from the bottom is the return to the Makati Cinema Square.

Oh yes, that strangest of all venues with the wooden stage with boxing ropes around it. What a horrible place to have to do wrestling. Which in turn makes it an amazing place to do wrestling. Makati Cinema Square has taken on legendary status in the Philippine wrestling scene, so much so that entire podcasts are dedicated to discussing its place in history. It also holds a lot of nostalgic value for both fans and wrestlers alike especially now that the venue has been renovated to not be able to host wrestling anymore.

So let’s take a look at what MWF added to the Makati Cinema Square canon in what they fondly refer to as Year Zero. An admittedly experimental time in the MWF canon but one worth digging into nonetheless. This footage is especially precious given the fact that with one exception, no full match footage exists from 2018 when the company truly gained momentum. As such, we only have these relics from the promotion’s first hesitant steps into the world of pro wrestling.

There are fifteen matches on this set across three different shows–Republika, Road to Fate, and Balikbayan. As with any starting promotion populated by inexperienced workers, this is a mixed bag of content.

But mostly it’s bad.

I. Robin Sane is the Ace MWF Needs

Robin Sane is comfortably the most complete wrestler on the MWF roster during the Makati Cinema Square era. He is also the wrestler most representative of MWF as a promotion which makes him the ideal top babyface to build the company around. 

What do I mean by this? 

Robin Sane in the ring embodies the tone and style that MWF has become known for in the years to come. His over the top bumps and selling really highlight the emphasis that MWF places on character, storytelling, and even a light comedic tone that never takes itself too seriously. In fact, all these skills make Robin Sane one of the most accomplished comedy wrestlers in the Philippines. 

And don’t get it twisted, Robin Sane is at his core an incredibly skilled comedy wrestler. Watching him work and sell is almost like watching a cartoon character come to life. His body seems in the strangely elastic fashion of a Looney Tunes animation and the way he lingers on a sell for just a second too long really creates an organic inclusion of comedic elements into his impressive athletic arsenal.

All that combines to probably Robin Sane’s greatest achievement from the first year of MWF: having a near thirty minute main event match with Gigz Stryker. 

Gigz Stryker is first and foremost a character worker. Building his gimmick around the persona of a 90’s Filipino action hero, Gigz has endeared himself to the MWF audience by being a representative of a figure that we’re all nostalgic for. An FPJ-like badass who wears shades indoors, comes out to an awesome Bon Jovi songs, and does silly body punches. As an overall act, Gigz knew exactly how to get over and how to project himself as a character.

But Gigz has never been the most accomplished wrestler of the bunch. Speaking as someone who watched nearly every match that he worked in 2018 and 2019, I can tell you that his in-ring performances aren’t really anything to write home about. They’re built mostly around character, simple spots that don’t even look to great, and then hiding that fact under more character.

So the fact that Robin Sane worked a match with him for over twenty minutes and I didn’t hate it is nothing short of a miracle. 

In fact, this match is almost good. There’s a good match buried beneath about ten minutes too much action (which you’ll find is a common thread in this early MWF footage). They show off some really great sequences and spots to start and then mix in both their signature comedic spots in the middle before the match just loses its way and just refuses to end.

This is by far the best Gigz Stryker performance I’ve ever seen and it’s a real feather in Robin Sane’s cap that he pulled it out of him. 

Sane’s best work of the three matches of his on this set, however, is his main event match up against Rex Lawin. 

This is easily the best match on the set. Robin Sane & Rex Lawin have always had a strong chemistry to them mostly because as a pairing, they always complement each other’s strengths. Rex is best known for his power moves and striking which looks best when Robin is there to bump like a maniac for him and sell like a boss. Robin Sane is best known for his speed and underdog character which contrast well with Rex’s power and size advantage.

It’s honestly a simple formula. Rex is big and hits hard, Sane bumps big and sells big. It’s easy pro wrestling.

The only problem with this match is how story elements from outside the match intrude upon it. We get two instances of outside interference from both Coach Gus Queens and Fabio Makisig which serve more as character markers that add depth to the canon more than actually bringing anything to the match itself.

II. I Miss Aldrin Richards, but not Hanzello Shilva

Oh, he was so good.

Aldrin Richards no longer wrestles with MWF and that’s a shame because he showed so much potential in this early footage. A solid base of power moves, strikes that actually sound effective, and just a general ability to make his offense look good. Aldrin Richards looked like a prime candidate to be a young prospect the company could develop. He had the raw skills that made him shine as a rookie and all he needed was the time and guidance to become something great.

Perhaps his most famous match at the time comes from Balikbayan when he took on Hanzello Shilva in a co-main event feature match. This match has attained a somewhat legendary status among many MWF fans as the hidden gem to see from this period in MWF. And it’s easy to see why one might hold that opinion of it.

This is not a match. Not in the actual cohesive narrative sense of the word. Rather this is much more like a pro wrestling mixtape. The live equivalent of performing a PWG highlight reel without any of the connective tissue that makes a match…a match. 

This match is equal parts wonderful and horrible in all the ways you expect it to be. It’s a loose combination of their favorite spots from New Japan and the indies barely held together with the crowd’s patience only extended by a respect for the stupid bumps they’re taking on a hardwood surface with only the illusion of padding on it. 

Richards does pretty well in this setting and Shilva, dominating a fair amount of the match with good strikes (including a dope Drive By) and he shows off some sweet suplexes towards the finishing stretch. He wears his New Japan fandom on his sleeve here, going for a Rainmaker early in the match and even nails a One Winged Angel to get the victory. 

Shilva is not so great. His strikes are soft, his Gargano rolling kick is awkward, and his sense of timing and selling is just nonexistent. My god, after he gets nailed with a One Winged Angel, he rolls right back up as if he was just just a second away from kicking out. Who is this guy to big league a move that has literally only ever been kicked out of by one person when done by its best practitioner? Let’s say best case scenario that in kayfabe Aldrin Richards can’t do a better One Winged Angel than Kenny Omega. Even then, you just got dropped of someone’s shoulders neck-first onto a hardwood surface. Maybe take the time to lie down and let the move sink in especially when it’s the finish of your match.

Oh such indie trash in this match. 

In many ways, it reminds me of the Miguel Rosales-Mayhem Brannigan match from PWR 2015. But where that match embraced its indie trashiness and threw absolutely everything at the wall from blood to dives to apron spots to hurricanranas, this match deludes itself into some sense of epicness and restraint. Doing figure four spots that don’t pay off, building to strike exchanges that don’t pay off. It tries to be something more than it is and it unfortunately fails in that regard.

But the bumps are fun.

III. What’s in the Box?

One of the main feature matches from MWF’s last show of 2017 Balikbayan was the eponymous Balikbayan Box match between Frankie Thurteen and Moises Liwanag. I clicked on this match with a lot of worry and dread. I’m not a big fan of Moises even to this day and Frankie’s a guy who’s been inconsistent at best and really didn’t show too much to be excited about from the 2017 footage.

And that’s what fascinates me about this match.

It is both better and far worse than I expected. As I mentioned, I entered the match already with negative expectations of it but it falls apart so quickly into such ridiculous silliness that it attained a bit of charm. 

The gimmick is that anything contained inside the balikbayan boxes in the ring is legal to be used as a weapon. This of course means that there are some ridiculous weapons in there–a teddy bear, a basketball, and even a Trian dela Torre shirt. And it’s hilarious for a bit.

There’s an extended segment that sees Frankie dribbling a basketball and taking his time to bounce the ball on Mosies’ face and body. Then he places a teddy bear onto Moises and then double stomps him through the bear? Because that makes it hurt more?

Yeah, this match completely ditches any sort of illusions of urgency or reality or intensity. And you know what? I kinda dug that. I laughed when Frankie pulled out the Trian shirt, I laughed even harder when Frankie broke the ceiling light at the venue. This match was funny.

But then it just keeps on going.

It meanders its way to the mezzanine of the MCS where the two wrestlers punch and brawl their way through the backstage area. Aldrin Richards gets involved for some reason (in kayfabe he’s a friend of Frankie’s) then they wander their way back to the ring where Frankie nails a double stomp off the top to get the three count in a long arduous match. 

What a rollercoaster ride this match took me on–from hating it to having ironic love for it to boring my way to the finish. It’s a mixed bag of a match. Or rather, a balikbayan box poorly packed, shaken up on the flight home, and opened up begrudgingly only to find a mess inside. 

IV. Fabio Makisig was Cool Then, and He Still Is Now

With Robin Sane’s forced hiatus from pro wrestling, Fabio Makisig is currently the top babyface in 2019’s MWF. It’s a great organic development that begun in 2018 as most of his 2017 was spent as a cool heel who constantly ran his mouth to tear his opponents down. 

And for the most part, that’s pretty entertaining stuff from Fabio. He’s both fortunate and unfortunate to not be overexposed on this early footage. Sure, he looks great on offense and he never overstays his welcome but we never get a full picture of what Fabio can really do inside the ring given an extended amount of time.

In the end, I’ll err towards the positive and say that this is a good thing. Too many of the MWF matches from these cards suffer from going far, far too long. Their thin roster and only having five or six matches on every card meant that some people received twenty plus minutes when realistically, they should have been working with five or less.

Fabio’s shining moment on this set of footage however is his match with a debuting Khayl Sison–or as he was known then, simply Kyle Sison. Debuting to take on Fabio in response to an open challenge, Sison actually starts off his careers as a babyface which is pretty shocking given that he spent most of 2018 as one of the most hated heels in professional wrestling.

But this match is a glimpse into the potential that both men showed in the earliest stages of their career. They have a natural chemistry together, similar to Rex Lawin and Robin Sane. Any match that has Kyle vs. Fabio will always be decent at the very least. And here, we see some of their ambitions towards introducing more shoot style grappling to the squared circle especially during Sison’s triangle choke spot where he threw some pretty great looking frantic elbows at Fabio’s head.

While Fabio dispatches Kyle quickly enough in this match, there is a lot there to highlight both their particular strengths while also hinting at some of their weaknesses. Khayl doesn’t quite yet have a developed move set despite being able to move well around the ring. And Fabio’s selling isn’t really the most convincing in the world. 

All in all, it’s a positive hint for things to come for both these talents.

V. Conclusion

The footage we have from MWF in 2017 feels exactly like relics. Historical archives of a time before the promotion had really discovered their own identity and the talents of their roster. It’s clear even in the guerrilla form that we receive the first batch of footage. The videos from Republika have text cards revealing to us that Sonny Go just started recording on a whim and even decided to just commentate over the footage out of the blue. This continues with the production on each succeeding batch of videos getting closer and closer to resembling your average wrestling show. 

There’s a lot of bad on this shows such that I think getting through these might have been the toughest batches of footage that I’ve experienced yet since starting this project. Part of that is just the inevitable comparisons I make mentally. There is much better stuff happening elsewhere in the company so I have far less patience for the same mistakes that I’ve already seen in the past.

But there is something there. The reliance on promos, angles, the addition of backstage vignettes on two of the shows. These things foreshadow the things to come from MWF: a product much more focused on character and story than in-ring action. MWF has always been far more CHIKARA than it has been ROH and their product only improves when it embraces this and ditches the twenty plus minute main events. 

I wish I had full footage to show you of how they adjusted to this in 2018 but that simply doesn’t exist outside of highlight reels from each show. The next time that we get to talk about MWF, we’ll be talking about a singular match from 2018 and the start of the first ever weekly pro wrestling programming in modern Philippine history. 

Until then, onwards we go into 2018.

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